CHARLES AND CAMELIA: AS TIME GOES BY
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- For the past few years I've been a fan of a gentle British situation comedy called "As Time Goes By." It originated with the BBC in 1992 and ran in England for eight or nine seasons. Now it plays in repertory on most American PBS stations; it's not hard to find.
The show takes its title, of course, from the song made famous by the film "Casablanca." It, too, tells the story of a couple in love who part unwillingly and then meet years later in quite different circumstances.
In the case of the television show, however, a lot more time goes by. The lovers are Jean Pargetter, played by the elegant Academy Award winner Dame Judi Dench, and Lionel Hardcastle, played by comedian Geoffrey Palmer, whose face outdroops a bloodhound's. They meet and fall in love during the Korean War, when she is a student nurse and he is an army officer. After he is deployed, however, their letters to each other get lost, and each assumes the other no longer cares. They go on with their lives and meet, by chance, 38 years later, when he is divorced and she is widowed.
Short on plot and long on character and wit, the episodes show us how these aging lovers renew their romance, eventually moving in together and finally marrying. As we watch these two set-in-their-ways yet charming and affectionate people negotiate their new life together, we are warmed by their tenderness as well as their struggles with love, age and compromise.
For many years, "As Time Goes By" was simply a well-done television show. But I can't help thinking what a prescient reality show it has turned out to be, now that the world's most famous elderly lovers, Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, are preparing to marry.
Charles and Camilla, too, met when they were young. They, too, were separated by fate - in this case, Charles's career in the Navy. Although they never lost touch, and sometimes carried on a surreptitious affair (his infamous wish to become her Tampon), they each married other people and had children. They both suffered and divorced and palpably (and publicly) longed for each other. On April 8, with the blessing of the Queen, they will finally be married.
For Charles, who started his first marriage as though it were a fairy tale, only to see it end as the tabloid screech from hell, and for Camilla, who has been abused by the press for years, it is truly a happy ending. Charles was clearly bred to be with someone old-fashioned and horsy, not with the pop culture Versace-bunny that Diana turned out to be. No matter how much you loved Diana, a happy ending is what these two lovers have long deserved.
And yes, Charles and Camilla are probably snobs, certainly pompous and arrogant, and quite possibly the living epitomes of Monty Python's upper-class twits. It doesn't matter.
As it turns out, love is not the only reason for this marriage. According to Newsweek, Charles - the heir to one of the largest fortunes in the world - was burning up about $500,000 a year, some of it in public money, living with Camilla, whom the press, with quaint Edwardian prudery, calls "his mistress."
"I think the wedding announcement is a direct result of the criticism Charles has recently faced for his lavish spending of public money on his mistress," Charles's biographer Anthony Holden, told Newsweek. "It has forced him to make an honest woman of her."
We Americans, however, cannot look down our noses at this prudery - we have a prude of our very own. It seems that the White House will not welcome Camilla after the wedding because she is - and here we are shocked, shocked! - a divorcee! (That kind of thinking would not only have prevented Ronald Reagan from visiting the Bushes, but would put a damper on any Bush family barbecue, as well. )
It makes me happy to see this pair of radiant older lovers finally marry. I can imagine them in their comfortable bed, like Jean and Lionel in the television show, talking over their little ailments, arguing about whether she really heard a noise downstairs or where they will take their next vacation, or trying to resolve one of their children's problems. I imagine them cuddling, feeling snug, secure and happy, no longer alone.
As someone who loves being married, how can I not wish the same happiness for everyone who wants to take it on, gay or straight, old or young?
"The world will always welcome lovers," as Herman Hupfeld wisely wrote in 1931. So phooey on you, George W. Bush. "You must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is still a sigh. The fundamental things apply as time goes by."
Joyce Marcel is a freelance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.